Not rated, but this one is pretty brutal for 1955. Someone technically self-immolates, which is probably the first time that I've had to write that word. There's a lot of violence and a lot of implied adultery. There's a real James Bond icky vibe about Mike Hammer, knowing that he just casually makes out with women. There's murder. Straight up murder. That's pretty typical for film noir. Regardless, this one is more intense than others. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Robert Aldrich
Man, I don't want to write about this right now. Without going into specifics, I just put together the most amazing lesson plan for the week of remote teaching. I've basically spent all day yesterday and a lot of my week killing every free moment to give my students the best remote learning experience possible. Now I don't know what to believe. I can't be too hard on anyone. It's their own opinions. But I don't want to write an essay on a movie that I watched a week ago that I have to be smart about. I want to do what everyone else in isolation is doing and curl up under blankets instead of remote teaching and being a smarty pants.
Kiss Me Deadly works because of the end. I have a handful of movies that full under that purview. It's not like Kiss Me Deadly is ever bad, but like Arrival, the end puts the whole beginning into perspective. I' m going to talk about the end a lot, mainly because it is the one thing that really sticks with me. I was remarkably tired when I watched this and had to sit up uncomfortably so I didn't fall asleep. It was for class and that means I had to watch it with a watchful eye. But that might ultimately be a commentary on how normal and kind of boring the movie starts off as. I mean, it starts with Cloris Leachman, whom I will never disparage. But Mike Hammer, as a character, kind of isn't the best. My wife kept on commenting on how she couldn't get past this guy as a protagonist. I never knew that Mike Hammer was an actual film noir protagonist. I thought it was one of those spoofy names. I can't help but jump to the TV show Sledge Hammer. It's just so over-the-top, which kind of fits Mike's personality.
Mike, and this isn't necessarily to the detriment of the film, which I overall enjoyed, is kind of underwritten. A bit of a Mary Sue character himself, Mike is almost entirely the toxic male ego put into a movie. Mike, if you knew him in real life, would be wildly annoying. You would keep him so far away from your life. I want to pretend that the filmmakers and the authors want you to think that he's a little scummy, but the way that the movie presents him is the same thing that happens with a lot of cool antiheroes. Like Rick Sanchez, he's a jerk and we're supposed to support that. Now, I'm a big Rick and Morty fan, but not a fan of the fandom Mike Hammer doesn't really have the self-awareness that Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland give Rick. Part of the entire vibe of this guy is "Isn't it cool that he doesn't really care about the rules or how society works?" Film noir is meant to comment on the dark, existential elements of man's soul. But Mike is such a superficial jerk that I don't know if there is a ton of heavy lifting going on in terms of the character. The movie as a whole has a lot of analysis that needs unpacking. But Mike himself is kind of vapid. He's all punching and kissing. That's it. It's really tough to say that the movie is asking me to go any deeper with him, which is odd because the movie's plot is asking me to go real deep.
That reveal of the Macguffin is absolutely insane. I wrote this response to that for my film class. We read this article talking about the fear of science and secrets. For the most part, I agree with that article, but I don't necessarily agree that the message given in Kiss Me Deadly is about secrets being kept. It's the willful ignorance of knowledge that is being part of the torture. I'm just going to come out and say what the end is because I've buried it deep enough for all intents and purposes. The box that everyone's been after, that's been kind of hidden behind the death of Cloris Leachman. It's just nuclear material that opens like the mouth of hell. It's terrifying. It's the ark of the covenant scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I woke up real fast when that scene happened. It's so out of left field that I can't even begin to explain the surprise of that moment. Yet, it makes total sense for the era. The fear of nuclear annihilation permeated every element of popular culture during the era, so seeing this white light come out of this box as demons scream is remarkably appropriate.
But there's almost a deliberate attempt to divert from what might be in the box. Mike Hammer, as a protagonist, is so single-minded that any complications that come with this search for the box become almost secondary. Mike is almost trying to solve what the heck happened to Cloris Leachman that, when the box shows up, it is almost a computer error level failure. It's a recursive loop of making sense. And that's almost great. There's this box out there that has very little backstory from Mike Hammer's perspective. It is what a Macguffin should be. It shouldn't matter what is in the box and how it got there. Instead, it just moves the story forward and that's absolutely bizarre. But to compound everything, this Macguffin ultimately matters. It's this commentary on civilization that is absolutely horrifying. Listen, I'm stepping on my own toes here, but I have to call film noir a genre for a second. (Again, it really isn't a genre, but to make this point, I have to go there.) The movie turns from fairly typical film noir into nuclear horror in one move. Like, there is this tonal shift that I haven't really seen in film noir and it is a bizarre one. That scene, with the demon screams, is absolutely horrifying. I associate it with demon screams because I live in 2020 and am holed up in a basement. But those screams had to mirror the victims of the nuclear bombs. I'm just thinking about this right now. Yes, bright light has to be associated with noise. But I can't help but think about the haunting element of voices echoing through space. It's absolutely scary and it works so well.
But Hammer doesn't even think about this moment. Not once. He continues to do what he does. In fact, it's kind of bizarre how all of this seems normal for Hammer. When that right hook comes at the end, it's probably shocking to him as well. There's this entire feeling of normality being disrupted. I don't even know if I want to talk about the multiple endings because I don't know if that was an artistic decision or a studio decision with that call. But Hammer is taken to another plane. It almost becomes this alternate level of consciousness. It's so bizarre that the version I saw ended with Mike on the beach. Yeah, emotionally that's the place to end the movie. But there's this whole worldview that Mike kind of has to accept and he just has to end the movie there. I'm sure that I'm the only guy who comments that Mike is kind of a meathead, so seeing him deal with something that should shake him to his core is interesting. Instead, it kind of just ends like a lot of action movies do. We see the villain get her just desserts and the hero stands in the afterglow. But that's only appropriate in stories where action is the final end. The story begs the viewer to think about the fragility of life, but Mike Hammer is just too much of a blockhead to get anything out of that.
Emotionally, I kind of liked it. It's a bit boring at times, mainly because the relationships between cause-and-effect are really strained. Figuring out how the characters got to the endgame is very challenging, but that endgame is rad. It really is important to stick the landing and this one sticks it really hard. It actually redeems what is kind of a weaker movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.